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Can Bits and Bytes be Authentic? Preserving the Authenticity of Digital Objects

By Hans (Johannes) Hofman


At a round table, organised by DigiCULT in May 2002 in Barcelona, representatives of different communities discussed the issue of authenticity of digital information. It turned out to be not easy to understand each other, because of different terminology, or better the use of the same words, but with different meanings, a familiar problem in discussions across domains. One thing was clear, however, it is a relevant issue not limited to one community, but shared by many, as for instance the libraries, broadcasting, and archives communities. Authenticity with respect to documents or information entities is not a new notion. It goes back as long as they exist. In a paper world with physical entities it was not a big issue, because of the fixed form they had. The discussion however, showed that the emergence of information in digital form requires re-thinking in applying it in the digital world. Authenticity may be described as ‘conveying a (digital) object in its ‘original state’ to a user over time’. Although this may not be an adequate description, it already implies a lot of issues, some of which I want to address in this paper. One of them the issue of what ‘original’ means in a digital environment. One of the recommendations of the round table was to conduct a survey to see what is happening in practice and how authenticity is experienced or seen in different communities, especially in relation to digital objects. It also indicates that no consensus has been reached yet on this issue.

Topics: BC Authenticity and Integrity
Year: 2002
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